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Brachial plexopathy

Neuropathy - brachial plexus; Brachial plexus dysfunction; Parsonage-Turner syndrome; Pancoast syndrome

Brachial plexopathy is a form of peripheral neuropathy. It occurs when there is damage to the brachial plexus. This is an area on each side of the neck where nerve roots from the spinal cord split into each arm's nerves.

Damage to these nerves results in pain, decreased movement, or decreased sensation in the arm and shoulder.

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Causes

Damage to the brachial plexus is usually from direct injury to the nerve, stretching injuries (including birth trauma), pressure from tumors in the area (especially from lung tumors), or damage that results from radiation therapy.

Brachial plexus dysfunction may also be associated with:

In some cases, no cause can be identified.

Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

Exams and Tests

An exam of the arm, hand and wrist can reveal a problem with the nerves of the brachial plexus. Signs may include:

A detailed history may help determine the cause of the brachial plexopathy. Age and sex are important, because some brachial plexus problems are more common in certain groups. For example, young men more often have inflammatory or post-viral brachial plexus disease called Parsonage-Turner syndrome.

Tests that may be done to diagnose this condition may include:

Treatment

Treatment is aimed at correcting the underlying cause and allowing you to use your hand and arm as much as possible. In some cases, no treatment is needed and the problem gets better on its own.

Treatment options include any of the following:

Occupational therapy or counseling to suggest changes in the workplace may be needed.

Medical conditions such as diabetes and kidney disease can damage nerves. In these cases, treatment is also directed at the underlying medical condition.

Outlook (Prognosis)

A good recovery is possible if the cause is identified and properly treated. In some cases, there is partial or complete loss of movement or sensation. Nerve pain may be severe and may last for a long time.

Possible Complications

Complications may include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you experience pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness in the shoulder, arm, or hand.

Related Information

Peripheral neuropathy
Brachial plexus
Radiation therapy
Muscle function loss
Contracture deformity

References

Chad DA, Bowley MP. Disorders of nerve roots and plexuses. In: Daroff RB, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 106.

Waldman SD. Cervicothoracic interspinous bursitis. In: Waldman SD, ed. Atlas of Uncommon Pain Syndromes. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 22.

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Review Date: 4/30/2018  

Reviewed By: Amit M. Shelat, DO, FACP, Attending Neurologist and Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurology, SUNY Stony Brook, School of Medicine, Stony Brook, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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